June 5th, 2007

Many Melancholy Returns

From Tanijaki Junichiro, The Makioka Sisters (translated by Edward Seidensticker)--
The year before, the Makiokas had had lunch at the Pavilion of the All-Merciful, and the year before that at one of the tea houses by the bridge. This year they chose the precincts of the Temple of the All-Conquering Law -- that temple to which, in April each year, the twelve-year olds of Kyoto are brought to pray for a happy adolescence.

"Remember the tongue-cut sparrow, Etsuko? This is where he lived." They had crossed the bridge back toward the city, and were starting through the bamboo groves near the Temple of the Heavenly Dragon.

A chilly wind had come up by the time they passed the Nomomiya, the Shrine in the Fields, where in ancient times court maidens retired for purification before leaving to become Shrine Virgins at Ise. At the Enrian Hermitage a shower of cherry petals was falling, to decorate their kimono sleeves. Again they walked through the Temple of Clean Coolness, and, taking a train, arrived back at the Bridge of the Passing Moon yet a third time. After a rest they hailed a cab and drove to the Heian Shrine.

Those weeping cherries just beyond the gallery to the left as one steps inside the gate and faces the main hall -- those cherries said to be famous even abroad -- how would they be this year? Was it perhaps already too late? Always they stepped through the gallery with a strange rising of the heart, but the five of them cried out as one when they saw that cloud of pink spread across the late-afternoon sky.

It was the climax of the pilgrimage, the moment treasured through a whole year. All was well, they had come again to the cherries in full bloom. There was a feeling of relief, and a hope that next year they might be as fortunate, and for Sachiko, at least, the thought that even if she herself stood here next year, Yukiko might be married and far away. The flowers would come again, but Yukiko would not. It was a saddening thought, and yet it contained almost a prayer that, for Yukiko's sake, she might indeed no longer be with them. Sachiko had stood under these same trees with these same emotions the year before and the year before that, and each time she had found it hard to understand why they should still be together. She could not bear to look at Yukiko.

The willows and oaks beyond the cherry grove were sending out new buds. The oleanders had been clipped into round balls. Sending the four ahead, Teinosuke photographed them at all the usual spots: White Tiger pond, with its iris-lined shore; the stepping stones called the Bridge of the Reclining Tiger, reflected from the water with the four figures. He had them line up under the truly glorious branches that trail down over the path from the pine-topped hillock to the west of the Pond of the Nesting Phoenix. All sorts of strangers took pictures of the Makioka procession. The polite would carefully ask permission, the rude would simply snap. There the family had had tea, here they had fed the red carp -- they remembered the smallest details of earlier pilgrimages.

If Beatrice Had Been a Femme Fatale

I got back from jogging a little while ago. The weather seemed almost pleasant to me. Considering the fact that it was 99 degrees when I started, I may be losing my mind or, barring that, succumbing to another one of the many conditions that plague longtime residents of the desert. It did take me a little longer than usual to finish, but I think that's only because I had a minor stitch in my left side, rather than being a heat-related circumstance. Anyway, I'm writing this to inform you of my companion for a decent stretch of the jog:

I swear it was following me, since I saw it numerous times over a ten-minute stretch. Strangely, even though stinging insects that fly are my most powerful fear and one of my strongest early childhood memories was of being set upon by a giant yellow-and-black creature that my parents insisted was a butterfly but I continue to maintain was a hornet, I wasn't unduly alarmed by the presence of this impressive member of the wasp family. I didn't even flinch when it circled my head a few times in apparent consternation. Of course, I hadn't yet read about what it might feel like for a human to be stung by one:
These wasps are usually not aggressive[1], but the sting, particularly of Pepsis formosa, is among the most painful of any insect. Commenting on his own experience, one researcher described the pain as "...immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations."[2] It is listed near the top of the list in Schmidt Sting Pain Index. Although the sting is quite painful the effect is reported to last only a few minutes and is fatal less often than the honey bee. Their large stingers are considered defensive adaptations for living in the open, where they are prone to predators. Because of their stingers, very few animals are able to eat them; one of the few animals that can is the roadrunner.
Somehow the knowledge that the tarantula hawk's sting is "fatal less often than the honey bee" doesn't provide me a great deal of comfort. I guess I'll have to be careful not to anger the next one I encounter in my efforts to attain moderate fitness. In the meanwhile, I can delight in my discovery of the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, which may be the best parody of the discourse of wine connoisseurs I've ever seen:
• 1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.
• 1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet & reaching for the light switch.
• 1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.
• 2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.
• 2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine WC Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.
• 2.x Honey bee and European hornet.
• 3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.
• 3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic & burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of Hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.
• 4.0 Pepsis wasp: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath (if you get stung by one you might as well lie down and scream).
• 4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch nail in your heel.
"Hot and smoky, almost irreverent" -- that's beautiful.


I was in the mood for a meme, preferably of the easy-to-do variety, and then saw _luaineach's entry in which she revealed that her "power bird" is a vulture. That made me smile, so I figured I'd better follow in her webbed footsteps. And I learned that my own avian Doppelgänger is. . .
Your Power Bird is a Cardinal

You believe that each day is precious, and you spend your times as best as you can.
You see the wonder in small things, and you are often content with what you have.
You life an interesting, colorful life - and you bring color to those around you.
Confident and expressive, you believe you know how to live a good life. You're living it!
I've always loved cardinals, particularly since they provide one of the rare spots of bright color in an East Coast winter. They're bound to one place, which appeals to my change-resisting Taurean sensibility. Why migrate when you can endure?

Also, my favorite football team as a child was the Jim Hart, Mel Gray, and Terry Metcalf-led St. Louis Cardinals, an exciting team not to be mistaken for their unfortunate descendants up in the Phoenix metropolitan area. They should have know better than to keep the same name after "migrating" to browner pastures.

The only problem with my power bird is that it might be mistaken for the non-avian form of Cardinal, the sort whose ridiculous mascot is a puny evergreen. I'll just have to remind everyone that the announcement of my power bird's identity was preceded by the indefinite article.